Thursday’s Alpha Monocerotid Meteor Shower Confounds Experts

Perseid meteor shower. Credit: NASA.

This Thursday evening into Friday morning the annual Alpha Monocerotid meteor shower will be visible, but experts can’t agree on whether it will be spectacular or not.

Last week Sky and Telescope reported that the Alpha Monocerotids is expected to be intense with upwards of 400 meteors per hour.

The intensity of the meteor shower was based on the research of Peter Jenniskens, a senior research scientist with the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center, along with Esko Lyytinen of the Finnish Fireball Network.

The problem with Jenniskens and Lyytinen’s prediction is that another expert disagrees and makes a compelling argument.

Bill Cooke, Lead, at NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office posted a note to the NASA Watch the Skies blog in response to all the media attention this particular Alpha Monocerotid meteor shower.

In it he states that “as the media inquiries increased, I began to wonder if all the attention is justified. Being a meteor shower forecaster, I am all too aware of the fact that such predictions (including mine), while pretty accurate on the timing, often estimate a shower intensity higher (factors of a few) than what actually takes place. So I decided to take a more detailed look, starting with some dumpster diving for old papers about this shower and making a few calculations of my own.”

This map shows the total number of meteors observers in the United States can expect to see for this year’s alpha Monocerotid meteor shower, provided the rates are similar to the 1995 outburst.
This map shows the total number of meteors observers in the United States can expect to see for this year’s alpha Monocerotid meteor shower, provided the rates are similar to the 1995 outburst. Credit: NASA.

He goes into some detail based on the research he’s dug up and sums up his findings by saying “I now think there is a pretty good chance there may be no outburst at all. And even if there is, it won’t be as impressive as many think.”

Having said that he ends his post with the following advice “so, if you are gifted with good seeing, give yourself about 45 minutes to adjust to the dark – go out about 10:35 PM Eastern, 9:35 PM Central, or 8:35 PM Mountain. Lie flat on your back, look straight up, and enjoy looking at the night sky (maybe listen to some appropriate tunes, but don’t look at your cell phone, as the bright screen will ruin your night vision). If Jenniskens and Lyytinen are right, you might see some pieces of a comet that awaits discovery, burning up in the atmosphere 60 miles above your head.”

Peak activity could last 15 minutes to 40 minutes starting around 11:15 p.m. EST according to the Sky and Telescope article.

SpaceQ’s advice? If the skies are clear, then why not head out around 11:15 to see what wonders you might see in the night sky.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactice Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 27 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.